The NHS could pay to remove damp from council houses in order to improve the health of residents, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has suggested.
Mr Hunt said that improving the quality of public housing could fall to the NHS in five years’ time as part of an holistic approach to public health.
Asked about the impact of housing on health outcomes, the Health Secretary told an audience at the King’s Fund in London: “Our whole approach is because we believe that improving the nation’s health is holistic.
“It is about providing green spaces in cities to help improve our mental health, providing cycle routes, a whole range of things, and housing is critical. There are very strong links between poor health and poor-quality housing.
“I can see a world, not immediately but in perhaps five years’ time, where the NHS pays to sort out the damp in someone’s council house.”
His suggestion drew a response from NHS chief executive Simon Stevens, appearing alongside him at the event, who asked in jest: “From our increased budget?”
The NHS is under severe pressure, struggling to meet rising demand with funding increasing at its lowest level since the NHS was founded, and a growing recruitment crisis.
The suggestion the NHS might take on additional costs may be met with scepticism by health service managers currently preparing for anticipated winter pressures, and grappling with local restructuring.
Mr Hunt’s comments came during a discussion of the next stages of NHS reforms known as Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs).
They are intended to get regional NHS services, from hospitals to GPs and social care providers, to work more closely together to tackle rising demand.
In some cases they have proposed closing or scaling back services, including A&E departments and maternity hospitals, in favour of larger more centralised facilities.
The aim is to reduce hospital admissions and treat more patients at home or in the community, thus reducing pressure on emergency departments and improving outcomes.
Mr Hunt and Mr Stevens believe STPs are the key to tackling pressure on the NHS without resorting to a fresh round of legislation and formal restructuring.
Some critics say the proposals are a cover for cost-cutting, others that they are an attempt to work around previous failed reforms introduced by the Conservative-led coalition government.
Mr Hunt announced that STPs would in future be rated, with the best-performing partnerships given freedom to try new healthcare models and faster access to funding.
He also revealed 15 areas would receive a share of £325m in capital investment funds first announced in the Spring Budget.
“This funding will support strong local plans to help the NHS modernise and transform care for patients,” he said.
He also acknowledged that any proposed closures were better made by clinicians than politicians.
“People have far greater trust if clinicians and doctors make the case,” he said. “If politicians make the argument people think it is just about money.”
Mr Stevens said: “For patients it will mean easier GP appointments, modern A&Es, and better cancer and mental health care.
“For staff we are putting money where our mouth is in backing these practical plans developed by doctors, nurses and local leaders.”
Source: Sky News http://news.sky.com